In the modern world, our sense of identity is strongly correlated to our job and for most of us our sense of self-esteem is linked to our role in a company. In a fast changing world, where competition is becoming tougher every day, management put strong pressure on employees to deliver numbers. The tyranny of numbers is becoming the dominant thought in the workplace. This dominant thought lives in the minds of the workforce and from the CEO to the salesman this creates the fear of being fired when our number are bad. How to manage this fear?
To be fired in this modern age is a kind of death, it is an end to a specific world where we were performing day in and day out, having our routine and relationships with colleagues and customers and earning our living. In Japan, this dramatic perception is even communicated in the popular language as the expression to describe the firing of an employee is the revealing wording of “kubi ni suru,” and means “cutting the neck.“
In this day and age, where economy has become the dominant force of the world, the economic warrior has replaced the warrior of ancient times. From a physical perspective, to be fired today is of course not the same thing as being killed in the battlefield of olden times. However, from a mental perspective the fear of death of the warrior in the exertion of his or her duty could be said to be similar to the fear of being fired of the employee doing their job.
Let’s look at how the two warriors classes of Japan and India, the Samurai and the Kshatriya were facing this fear of death in the performance of their duty. From this perspective, let’s try to gain some wisdom that could inspire us in our corporate world.
In both cases of Japan and India, the “warriors” were under the spell of “fear” and had guidance from the teachers of spiritual doctrines. In Japan, many members of the samurai class frequently visited Zen masters who taught disciples to focus on the Now and to cut thoughts of the past and future while performing their duty. This practice if followed through with continuity would gradually foster the mental state of “heijo shin,” which means an “ordinary mind” – a mind that remains self-possessed, impartial and peaceful, irrespective of the circumstances.
In India, Karma Yoga from the Bhagavad Gita, teaches people that having an active life means that – “Your right is in action alone and never at all in its fruits” (2, 47 ). This means that we should not identify ourselves with our success and failure. We should exert ourselves with the aim of performing our duty “for the good of the work to be done and for nothing else,” as explained by A.K Coomaraswamy in Christian and Oriental Philosophy of Art.
This perspective from spiritual doctrines is teaching us two things:
First, when we have a significant fear in the course of our duty, the solution to search for should not be in the same level as we encountered the issue. For example, when we find ourselves trapped in specific business circumstances where we feel the fear of being fired, it would not be productive to have our thinking wandering here and there on the tactical details on what to do amid these circumstances. We should rather try to detach ourselves from the thought of fear and aim to look for a spiritual light to look at the situation differently.
Second, we should bring back our mind to guide our actions in the present moment.
In our business world, what is our duty? Our duty is to deliver satisfaction and goodness to consumers and to society as a whole. Sales and profit numbers should be simply viewed as signposts on the way to sustainable consumer satisfaction.
In my duty of president of Godiva Japan, I have gone through period of worries as everyone, when the numbers did not go as expected. Whenever, I have been able to create a paradigm shift from viewing first and foremost the top and bottom line of the business to first viewing the correct actions for consumers, my worries vanished and I was able to come up with new ideas to lead the team in the good direction.
I have been asked recently, “What do you do when you have a boss that is pressuring you constantly on meeting your numbers?” Well, such a boss is creating an environment of fear and stress in the workplace. To provide guidance on this I looked at the teaching from the ancient Japanese martial art of Kyudo, which I have been practicing over the last 25 years.
In Japanese archery, when there is a situation of stress, for example in a test or in a competition, the teaching is to create a space (“ma o toru”) to protect yourself from the negative influence of intrusive thoughts of worry. The way to do it is to gently expel your breath to the lower abdomen and then to focus your mind on the proper body posture. In business, we should similarly effort ourselves to create a space between who we are and the constant thought of pressure from the numbers. Then, we should focus our mind on the proper form, which is the actions that we can do to satisfy our customers.
I believe that the businessperson who performs every day in a company can get inspiration from ancient wisdoms and arts. The journey from fear to fearlessness is a long and arduous one, but it is a journey that each of us can embark upon with sincerity and determination. Progress along the way will improve the human being, the company and society as a whole.
By Jérôme Chouchan, President, Godiva Chocolatier for Japan, South Korea, South East Asia, India, Australia and New Zealand. Chouchan is the author of Target – Business wisdom from the ancient Japanese martial art of Kyudo; and Board Director of the International Kyudo Federation.
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